As Kokomo (Ind.) Speedway owner Kent Evans pondered the upcoming racing season, he struck on an idea he felt could spice up the 1996 schedule.

Indiana Sprint Week, a collaboration of Hoosier state short-track promoters, had worked passably well for eight years. The car counts had always been solid and the crowds weren’t bad either. Still, Evans felt this event had untapped potential. Taking the initiative, Kent spearheaded a meeting at a Martinsville, Ind., restaurant to discuss his idea.

Attendees included Paragon Speedway owners Keith and Judy Ford, Bloomington Speedway’s Mike Miles, USAC Vice President Bill Marvel and USAC Communication Director Dick Jordan. In retrospect, it was one of the most important gatherings in USAC history, and a turning point in a new era for traditional, non-winged sprint car racing.

As a result of an agreement forged by the aforementioned participants, Indiana Sprint Week became a USAC-sanctioned affair for the first time in 1996. The pact created a modest three-race slate with events at Bloomington, Paragon and Kokomo Speedways.

Kevin Thomas and Jon Stanbrough topped the first two rounds and in a memorable moment, Brad Marvel scored his lone USAC national series victory in front of his proud father to conclude the series at Kokomo.

Within a few short years, the series exploded, augmented by the appearance of stars from the West Coast-based Sprint Car Racing Ass’n. In a time when non-winged sprint car racing, once moribund, was showing signs of renewed life, this event was a godsend.

Dave Darland (center) bested Chris Windom (left) and A.J. Hopkins (right) to win a USAC Indiana Sprint Week feature at Lincoln Park Speedway last year. (Dick Ayers Photo)

The uniting of the best traditional sprint car racers in the land added luster to this series within a series.  Not surprisingly, as the cars and drivers migrated from east and west in droves, the stands filled to capacity. Soon, what once seemed like a risky proposition was now viewed as a masterstroke.

Not wanting to be left on the sidelines, other tracks were anxious to join the fun. Now, as the 2019 edition of Indiana Sprint Week looms, this year’s edition of the event is scheduled to include eight races over a 10-day stretch during July.

The slate features stops at Gas City I-69 Speedway, Plymouth Speedway, Lawrenceburg Speedway, Bloomington Speedway, Terre Haute Action Track, Lincoln Park Speedway and the finale at Tri-State Speedway.

Today, Indiana Sprint Week is no longer a regional phenomenon but has become a destination racing vacation for sprint car fans.

This must-see event tests the stamina of spectators and participants alike. Yet, for those who race for a living, it can be the pivotal moment in the campaign. From a logistical perspective, the June swing through the East can prove to be a greater challenge. For teams based in the Indianapolis area, finding the parts and the space to work is challenging when disaster strikes miles from home.

However, timing is everything. When the schedule turns to mid-July, those in contention for the USAC crown know they have reached winning time. The pressure grows exponentially.

Nothing underscored the importance of every single race more than the 2018 USAC championship tussle. In the end, Tyler Courtney and Kevin Thomas Jr. ended the year tied in points, and Courtney walked away with the top prize by virtue of his edge in feature victories.

Unquestionably, Thomas had quiet moments during the offseason in which he pondered where a stroke of bad luck or a quick decision in traffic thwarted his night. Just one more point would have made all the difference.

Chris Windom, the 2017 USAC sprint car champion, deems Sprint Week “the turning point of the season. When you come out of sprint week, you know who is going to be in the chase for the rest of the year.”